This past summer, between June 11 and August 10, I had the privilege of being on five different continents (N. America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania) learning more about global Christianity.
I started out in Tanzania where our daughter Bethany is part of a team of 9 people bringing the gospel to an Unreached Peoples Group known as the Alagwa. They have been there five years, learned the language and crafted 29 oral stories which present the story of redemption from creation to New Creation. This is pioneer work. It is apostolic. It is the front of edge of Christian witness which marks the very global nature of the gospel, which always finds itself reaching out to the ends of the earth (Rom. 15:20). There were no known Christians among the Alagwa and most had never even remotely heard any coherent presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ. There are still thousands of such people-groups in the world.
I went from Tanzania to London, where I found myself catapulted from the pre-Christendom world of the Alagwa to the decidedly post-Christendom world of western Europe and urban London. There, I was caught off guard by the fresh expressions of Christianity which are emerging from the foundations of old Christendom. I was there primarily to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Salvation Army. They brought together over 20,000 Salvationists to the O2 center in London, one of the largest venues in the city. Every night they had a parade of different nations from all over the world, testifying again and again to the wonderful fusion of evangelical faith with cultural engagement. It was stunning. On Sunday morning I found myself preaching at Southwark Cathedral where Christians have been worshipping since the 7th century, on the south side of the Thames river. To call it liturgical high church could never capture the grandeur of the service. Robes, processions, stained glass windows, and incense only begins to capture the moment. I was overwhelmed not only by the packed out crowd, but quite literally by the incense, which was waved at me during the preaching to symbolize the prayers of the saints interceding for the church. It was about as far from the street preaching Salvation Army as you could imagine, but there He was, the Lord Jesus, fully present in that amazing church, as He had been present in the O2 the night before. Sunday evening, I found myself at Holy Trinity Brompton and the ministry of Nicky Gumbel, who pioneered Alpha, which has been one of the most successful evangelistic tools for post-Christendom people ever devised, now being used across the globe. The church was packed with two services Sunday to mirror their three Sunday morning services and ten satellite churches throughout London proclaiming the glorious gospel. The preachers there are in blue jeans and t-shirts, the overhead projector coming down from those ancient walls of that stone church, the band playing the latest Christian music and, once again, filled with people who have found redemption in Jesus Christ. There He was, the Lord Jesus, at HTB with his glorious presence. I left London keenly aware that God is building his church and orchestrating his work in ways which transcend anything we can imagine.
Returning to the USA, I was in Orlando and in San Diego with the Wesleyans and the Free Methodists respectively. I was reminded afresh of Asbury’s amazing work in training men and women for the entire Wesleyan stream.
I then flew to the Philippines, where Asbury is in the sixth year of studying revitalization movements around the world. We have studied new emerging Christian movements and re-missionized churches all over the world. This year, we had conducted a two year study of the Philippines and brought together five Christian movements in Manila. On the one end were vibrant Pentecostal movements. The Jesus is Lord WorldWide church now has millions of members around the world. The Victory church has pioneered, among other things, church plants in shopping malls around the Philippines. I have never been in a Mall which had a church which anchored the Mall on one end and Macey’s on the other. Manila is the home of sixteen major malls, and Victory is planting churches in all of them. Sunday morning, I worshiped in the CCF Center in Manila—Christ Commission Fellowship with multiple services, each with 20,000 worshipers. The Sunday we were there, the preacher was our good friend Oscar Muriu from Nairobi Chapel in Kenya. Global Christianity is alive and well in the Philippines. We also studied renewal in the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines. Right alongside of Victory Church and Jesus is Lord world-wide church, we had, for example, the Church of the Black Nazarene who are using a popular Roman Catholic devotion to an icon of Jesus which draws millions of pilgrims every year to share the gospel and explain what the Christian faith is really all about. The Pentecostals in Manila had never sat down with Roman Catholics and found that deeper ecumenism to which the gospel calls us. I am convinced that only Asbury could have brought them together. The week was filled with many gospel moments as we all witnessed the gospel emerging from the garment of a country where almost everyone already considers themselves Christian, but so many had never actually heard the gospel.
From Manila, I traveled to South Korea. There, one finds the largest churches in the world. There, the grandeur, the scope, and the vision of the church in Korea is staggering. Bishop Sundo Kim and his son ChungSuk Kim pastor the largest Methodist church in the world. To spend a week with these leaders makes one realize how little we pray, how little we believe in the power of the gospel to transform the world. They had just completed a ten story social service building next to the church to minister in the name of Jesus to the needs of the people of Seoul. It was a 58 million dollar construction built with no fund raisers or pledge drives—just Christian tithing. The theme verse of the Kwanglim Methodist is Phil. 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” After a week with the Koreans, I felt I had never really believed that verse.
From Korea, I flew to India to work with a ministry with which I have been involved intimately for almost 30 years. It is actually a family of ministries under the auspices of Good News for India, Bharat Susmachar Samiti, includes a major seminary which we broke ground for in 1987, now one of the largest seminaries in India; ten regional training centers, a myriad of schools and social outreach centers and over 600 church plants called Christian evangelistic assemblies. When I arrived, it happened to coincide with a manifesto from a Hindu radical group called RSS. This is the group that assassinated Mahatma Ghandi because of his reaching out to Muslims. This group has gained sufficient strength to elect the current prime minister, Narendra Modi a member of the RSS. This is a stunning development in India. Since his rise to power, Christian persecution has skyrocketed in India. The RSS manifesto which was released the week I arrived was a point by point plan on how they were going to eradicate Christianity in India in 20 years. They are committed to the three Hs: Hindustan, Hindi, and Hinduism. They want to rename the country Hindustan, the land of the Hindu. They want to rid India of English and have all discourse in Hindi, and they want to see all Indians as Hindus. What was amazing about the timing was that I was in India to conduct a week-long seminar with Indian Christian leaders on how to live out their faith in the context of persecution. This is a long ecclesiastical distance from Korea or the Philippines. Just since Modi came to power, there are have been hundreds of documented cases of violence against Christians. A church in Harayana had their cross torn down and a statue of the Hindu god Hanuman set up on the altar. A Pentecostal church in Bhopal was raided, the people taken outside and stripped naked and then made to watch their church building burn. In West Bengal 100 Christians were forced to go through a conversion to Hinduism known as Ghar Whapsi—homecoming—forced to eat dung in public shame for being Christians. In Rajasthan a 71 year old nun was publicly raped. I could go on and on, but all of this with impunity and all just since Modi’s inauguration. These are not stories from the first century, or even from rogue ISIS, this is coming today from the largest democracy in the world. In this context, these Christians are doing great gospel work, living on the missional edge in ways we can hardly imagine. Are we preparing our students to face this kind of opposition, or are we pretending that we live in another time and place?
I then went from India’s heat to the cold winter of New Zealand at the bottom of the world. There, I was met by good friend and one of our graduates, Dr. Richard Waugh. They are about fifteen years ahead of us as Methodists in terms of responding to the crisis of holiness in the church. In 2000, the evangelicals were, by vote, expunged from the Methodist church in New Zealand. They had not sought division and had multiple plans on the table where some kind of co-existence might be possible, but they were voted out. They went in tears, but as they told me, they woke up the next morning with a huge weight off their shoulders. They realized that the fighting was over and now they get to work on discipling the nations, preaching the gospel and planting churches. I drove all over Auckland seeing vibrant new church plants and we had a wonderful conference which has been going on annually, originally inaugurated by Dr. Ben Witherington. The conference was focused on the Grand Wesleyan vision and brought together leaders from all across the Wesleyan stream, from Australia, New Zealand, and many of the tiny islands of the South Pacific. I met hundreds of believers, including many of our graduates doing amazing work in the post-angst environment which we ourselves have begun to seek with our New Room conferencing here in the USA, which is a post-denominational solution, networking believers around a restored covenant and finding fresh winds of the Spirit to proclaim the gospel in the secular atmosphere of the South Pacific. I returned home, after 60,000 miles of travel, overwhelmed by the amazing work of God in the world. The Wesleyan message and the Christian gospel is being renewed to the ends of the earth, and Asbury has a huge role to play in equipping believers to re-present the gospel and to bear witness unto Christ to every people and nation.
When H. C. Morrison founded Asbury, he called us to “spread scriptural holiness throughout the world.” We want to take up that mantle for our generation. Let us not believe too small, or be found with tiny prayers or stunted faith. Let us walk boldly into the world God has given to us. We need not waste time lamenting the world or getting caught up in a cycle of despair and discouragement. We belong to Jesus who spoke rightly in the face of the passion, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!” We have been called to roll up our sleeves and unite with Christ, bringing the whole gospel to the whole world. Let us not lose sight of the vision of Rev. 7:9 and 19:6 where we see men and women from every tribe, tongue and nation worshiping the Lamb and declaring, “Hallelujah, the Lord our God, the Almighty Reigns!” Amen.